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EDITORIAL — Perot: Spectacular, Texan to his core

Ross Perot “lived the American dream,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said Wednesday morning, and those words capture concisely and perfectly the life of this unusual man.

Perot, who died Tuesday at his Dallas home at 89, was the quintessential Texan: brash, skilled, unabashedly American, patriotic, generous and usually wildly successful. Sometimes his “misses” were as big as his “hits.”

Cornyn said Perot, a billionaire, started with “virtually nothing” but accumulated great wealth.

“He was one of the most successful businessmen in America,” Cornyn said, “and everyone knew … how much he loved his country.”

Born in Texarkana, educated at the Naval Academy, Perot, whose family roots trace back to French Louisiana in the 1740s, was a class president and Eagle Scout as a boy — he achieved the latter in 13 months — who first learned the value of hard work during the Great Depression. He delivered newspapers, broke horses, sold Christmas cards and garden seeds and magazines to earn money.

At 12, he changed his name from Henry Ray Perot to Henry Ross Perot to honor his dad, a cotton broker and horse trader. As a young salesman for IBM Corp., he enjoyed meteoric success, once earning his annual sales quota in two weeks.

He took $1,000 from his wife to found Electronic Data Systems in Dallas in 1962 and sold it to General Motors for $2.4 billion in 1984. Fortune magazine called him the “fastest, richest Texan” in 1968. He was also the biggest loser on the N.Y. Stock Exchange in 1974, losing $450 million in stock value in one day.

His ambition was unbridled. So was his audacity. In 1979, after two EDS employees were imprisoned in Iran, he financed a successful covert mission to rescue them.

In the 1980s, Texas Gov. Mark White appointed Perot to lead a mission on education reform. Former State Sen. Carl Parker, D-Port Arthur, who chaired the Senate Education Committee, served on the same committee and got along famously with the tireless Perot; Parker said Perot was always available by phone when Parker needed to talk with him. If Perot called for Parker and found him not in, he’d leave mirthful messages, such as “Tell him his fourth cousin Ross called, and needs a loan.”

From that committee emerged “No pass, no play,” which ruled that high school students couldn’t participate in extracurriculars — read “football” — if they failed to meet academic benchmarks. Coaches howled, but the policy endures in leaner form.

He ran twice for president — unsuccessfully — pitching “direct democracy” and famously lecturing the country during his campaign.

Seven years before his death, a species of dinosaur, Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum, was named for his family. His life was spectacular and benefited many people.

Some success story. Some Texan.